Granny Murphy was supposed to be my guest at the Cork Person of the Year awards only two weeks ago. She had her hair done especially, the good outfit picked out.
“Mary Kennedy will be there,” I promised her. “It’ll be great.”
My grandmother was taken to hospital instead, a sepsis infection discovered within days.
“You have to get better,” my cousins and I tell her on Wednesday, still believing she was invincible. Of course she would recover, because how could she not?
She nods. “I’m not giving up,” she says, and she means it.
She was always a fighter, you see. There are so many things you could say about Margaret Murphy: How kind she was, the way she exuded warmth and decency, how tolerant she was of other people’s differences.
Her constant, ever-present smile. Her love of animals, how beautiful her rose garden was every summer, how fiercely bright she was.
How she was always just there ready to listen to you, to comfort you, to tell you everything would be OK.
But most of all, I think, she was a woman who never gave up.
She faced so many difficulties: Ill health, her house burning to the ground, the death of her baby, Michael, when he was only 30 years old, Granddad’s passing eight years afterwards.
Granny Murphy practically reared my sister, Michelle, and me. It’s funny, looking back, how we were somehow caught between the world of our lives as ’90s kids in Clonakilty and our lives Over Home, as we called it.
A world of rosaries said and the big dinner at one o’clock, all of us sitting around the table, clamouring over one another to be heard.
The Late Late on a Friday night and Winning Streak on a Saturday. The smell of my grandmother’s baking wafting from the kitchen, her famous brown bread, her apple sponge, her scones.
At night, Granny would tuck us into bed, reciting prayers as she sprinkled us with holy water.
I felt so utterly safe there — it was a place where nothing bad could ever happen. She never got angry or annoyed, there were no raised voices or sharp words, no admonishments to behave or be ‘better’.
She just loved us, and accepted us unconditionally, exactly as we were. What a gift to give someone!
Would that every child have someone in their life like Granny Murphy.
The week she was in hospital is a blur now. Biscuits and making small talk with nurses. Driving home to shower, the alarm set for 2am to come back to the Mercy and sit by her bed.
Eyes red, the night creeping into your bones, swaying with exhaustion. Hoping until you know there’s no hope left.
I sat with her as she died. I held her hand and I sang ‘Be Not Afraid’. I told her that it was safe for her to go, that she didn’t need to take care of us anymore.
I promised her that letting go was not the same thing as giving up.
Her eyes, the same as mine, the same as my mother and her siblings, green flecked with brown, staring at something or someone that I could not see. Her breath drawing shallow, slow, slow.
And all of a sudden, I remembered how, as a child, I had once begged her never to leave me and she crouched down and said “Everyone dies, Louise. The Lord brings you home in his own time.”
And when she stopped breathing that morning, January 26, 2019, I knew she was going home, and that Michael and Granddad would be waiting for her there.
I’m sure they’ve missed her. She was someone who was easy to miss.
Later, we are back Over Home, and there is a coffin in the parlour now. Impossibly, the lid bears her name.
Michelle and I are sitting on the stairs, eating yet another scone, drinking yet another cup of tea.
“We used to sit here as children,” I say. “Playing with our dolls or reading. Remember?”
I am saying “Remember?” a lot right now, desperately needing someone to help me pin down these fragments of recollections, flesh them out, make them real again.
“I don’t want to forget anything,” I say, but really, I am saying I don’t want to forget her.
How odd, I think, at 33 years of age, to finally feel as if your childhood is over.
“What am I going to do?” she asked me as she lay in that hospital bed, pulling at her oxygen mask, anxious to get back to the farm in Aherla.
I realise now that the real question is what are we going to do without her?
I don’t know. It is unbelievable to me that I will never see her again.
I will never push the back door open, shooing the stray cats and dogs she lovingly tended to out of my way and call, “Hi Gran.”
I will never again find that smiling face waiting for me. “It’s yourself,” she would say, as if you were the only person she had been waiting for.
I wish I had answers. I wish I had asked Granny to teach me how to make her brown bread.
I wish I had told her I loved her, one last time. But ultimately, I wish I had thanked her.
Thank you for my childhood. Thank you for being the best mother and grandmother that anyone could have asked for.
Go in peace, Granny Murphy. It’s time for you to go home.